REVIEW: DVD Release: Adelheid

Film: Adelheid
Release date: 23rd August 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 98 mins
Director: Frantisek Vlácil
Starring: Petr Cepek, Emma Cerná, Jan Vostrcil, Jana Krupicková, Pavel Landovský
Genre: Drama/Romance
Studio: Second Run
Format: DVD
Country: Czechoslovakia

In his first attempt at a colour film, director Frantisek Vlácil transports us by means of a train journey to Czechoslovakia where we are met with the repercussions of World War Two. A love tale with peril written all over it; Komer exemplifies the misfortunes which war carries to the table and how in its attempt to reconstruct minor faults of the world, war can end up hindering and reproducing them further. But will the two unlikely protagonists beat the odds in an unhopeful world with a happy ever after?

The story is led by one of two central characters Lieutenant Victor Chotovicky, a Czech soldier on his return journey from duty with the British RAF who we learn is somewhat of a rebel when he refuses to obey the orders of head officers on the railway, and, as a consequence, becomes involved in a brawl. It becomes clear that Chotovicky is not your average man as he takes no nonsense from anyone and battles for his privileges.

The nostalgic opening sequence is shot beautifully with idyllic views of the Czechoslovakian countryside accompanied by sombre yet hopeful music akin to those of religious melodies. From commencement onwards the film takes a poignant yet buoyant approach.

Chotovicky finds a slightly run down mansion, prior residence of the powerful and dangerous Hansgeorg Heidenmann, where he decides to make a habitat for himself. One morning he is awakened by the sound of scrubbing, and, in an attempt to reclaim what he now considers his, he approaches the ‘intruder’ armed, demanding to know how she got in and her motives. The woman, whom we learn is Adelheid Heidenmannová, knows the building well as she is the daughter of Heidenmann, and is now reduced to servitude as a consequence of her father’s terrible war time actions...

‘Adelheid’ comes from the old German name ‘Adalheidis’, which means nobility. Adelheid herself, along with Vlácil’s plot, reflects individual nobility and the attempts to regain human dignity in a time where all notions of such givens had vanished.

Patently, the mystifyingly demure German woman captivates Chotovicky from the moment they meet, and a yearning obsession quickly develops. Chotovicky acts rapidly in requesting to Sergeant Henja that Adelheid stay with him when she is supposed to return to the camp, where she can act as a servant to his every need. The film’s scenes from here are mainly filmed within the former dwelling of the Heidenmann’s, where the Lieutenant’s feelings for Adelheid increase, although it is not clear whether Adelheid reciprocates these emotions wholly or complies with the idealistic encounters required in order to fullfill her duties.

There are brief moments of joy and anticipation in Vladimir Komer’s novel turned film but nothing extravagantly amorous is said or acted upon to prove the two are in sync and especially in dual love with each other, although this coyness may be a result of the language barrier. Adelheid remains rather numb to the affair, although not against it - evident when she obeys Victor’s practiced German order: “Go to my room and wait for me in my bed,” whereas Chotovicky seems to be in love with her, or at least in lust, when he utters the tender words after they make love: “Now I am home.”

Romantics rejoice - this film is a sure fire way to get your passionate juices a-flowing; you will laugh and perhaps cry, but during the entire screening hope for a blissful ending for both Victor and Adelheid (optimistically, together). The emotional tale shows love at its strongest and at its weakest - how love can trap people and how it can set people free. We see the two leading roles become intertwined with one another, although on different levels, and for varying reasons, exemplifying a truly doomed and perhaps even forbidden love story.

Although the film deserves great credit for its plot, actors’ skills and devotion to characters, the only negative aspect is the poor cinematography in one of the first few scenes where Chotovicky takes a blow to the head and stumbles rather pathetically and unconvincingly to the ground. This laughable ‘fighting’ scene comes across as mediocre in comparison to the rest of the film where no major errors seem to occur apart from a few dubbing faults.

There is a recurring theme of loneliness concerning all characters involved. Lieutenant Chotovicky’s solitude is evident as he has no family, partner or home, and very few personal belongings. Adelheid’s aloneness is stemmed from her lack of family also, and how her life has changed significantly from riches to rags. Even minor characters like the Sergeant and his second in command show signs of being forlorn. Scenes concerning the Sergeant epitomise his dreary life with drink and dreams; he drinks alongside his officers and they talk somewhat bitterly about what others have and what they would desire in their monotonous lives.
This is further highlighted in one early scene where a German girl talks to Victor about her shortcomings. The story is a good historic account of the effects on an individual’s personal, physical and mental health as a result of living throughout a war of any kind. It is as though the bitterness of war stands in the way of love, or any feeling for Adelheid - perhaps the trauma of her father’s case is too much for her, and she resents the politics that remain.

Another huge element which is very hard to neglect is the running theme of sexual longing and frustration. Most characters make reference to sex; whether about themselves personally or about someone else on screen, and small, easily missed glances or quick passing phrases would indicate a cast wishing for some passion and/or companionship in life. However, the sexual chemistry is depicted mostly between Adelheid and Victor Chotovicky.

In Adelheid, the well selected cast and Vlácil’s fine directing skills have the ability to make the audience experience the same emotions they do - we feel the loneliness, the bouts of happiness and the relevant sensations at the end. A fine piece of cinema, especially for its time, and one which truly represents casualties of war. VMF

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